From PNHP | August 1, 2009

Last night as the House Energy and Commerce Committee completed its markup of HR 3200, the House health reform bill, Chairman Henry Waxman interrupted Representative Anthony Weiner of New York to say that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had promised that single payer legislation, HR 676, The United States National Health Care Act would come before the entire House of Representatives. Chairman Waxman:

The Speaker has said that she will allow this to be brought up on the House floor, and debated, and voted on.

Representative Anthony Weiner (NY-9, Brooklyn/Queens) had placed an amendment before the Energy and Commerce Committee that would have replaced the text of HR 3200 with the text of HR 676, the United States National Health Care Act. He was joined by fellow Energy and Commerce committee members Peter Welch (VT, Vermont), Mike Doyle (PA-14, Pittsburgh), Tammy Baldwin, (WI-2, Madison), Jan Schakowsky (IL-9, Chicago), Bobby L. Rush (IL-1, Chicago), Eliot L. Engel (NY-17, Rockland/Westchester).

Chairman Waxman asked for the single payer amendment to be withdrawn from committee debate in exchange for a debate and vote on the House floor. Representative Weiner hailed this victory in a brief statement:

Single-payer is a better plan and now it is on center stage. Americans have a clear choice. Their Member of Congress will have a simpler, less expensive and smarter bill to choose. I am thrilled that the Speaker is giving us that choice.

On the Mouth of the Potomac blog, NY Daily News Washington Bureau journalist Michael McAuliff reported:

The Brooklyn-Queens Rep. looked a little surprised when Chairman Henry Waxman said Pelosi would allow that vote, and made Waxman repeat the deal to be sure it was clear and on the record. It’s an especially big deal for advocates of a single health care system — who see it as cheaper and simpler than the complicated measure being drawn up — because they have been complaining that they have not even been able to get an airing of their position.

And having the vote of the floor of the House will force members to declare a position, and bring much more attention to the idea.

Reporting for The Hill Mike Soraghan wrote:

Legislation creating a single-payer system would be expected to lose, but would allow liberal members to record their support for the proposal. It will also be a tough vote for some Democrats who will be wary of upsetting the liberal base.

Many liberal lawmakers feel that the controversial “public option” that would compete with private insurers is a compromise from single-payer.

Single payer advocates should not be surprised by this turn of events. Chairman Waxman himself was a co-sponsor of HR 676 in the 109th Congress. Speaker Pelosi has also supported single payer in the past. Only this spring, at an event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, the Speaker told the audience:

… over and over again, we hear single payer, single payer, single payer. Well, it’s not going to be a single payer. …

Just one day before the Energy and Commerce Committee meeting, on July 30th, over one thousand single payer supporters swarmed through the halls of Congress to celebrate Medicare’s 44th birthday. Congresspeople and staff told us over and over again that back home grassroots clamor for single payer continues to build. In other words, across the nation, representatives have had the same experiences as the Speaker of the House.

Anthony Weiner’s initiative has created a new opening for us to educate our colleagues, our patients, our elected representatives, indeed everyone, about the need for a single payer program of national health insurance. A strong single payer vote in the House will mark a turning point in history.

Video links:

The full Weiner amendment discussion at the Energy and Commerce Committee can be viewed here. Look at the bottom on the screen. The session is 6 hours 5 minutes and 38 seconds long. The Weiner piece begins at 3 hours 15 minutes and 40 seconds and ends at 3:32:53.

Representative Weiner introduces the single payer amendment at the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Representative Tammy Baldwin (Madison, Wisconsin) speaks for single payer at Energy and Commerce Committee

Representative Eliot Engel (Westchester/Rockland, New York) speaks for single payer at Energy and Commerce Committee.

Chairman Waxman interrupts Representative Weiner to ask that the amendment be withdrawn because Speaker Pelosi has promised to allow single payer before the entire House of Representatives.